ANNAPOLIS — Clergy members met with Gov. Martin O’Malley on Monday for the second time in a week to discuss plans to find shelter with Maryland families for unaccompanied children who have been crossing the border from Central America, as well as pro bono legal help.
Bishop Wolfgang Herz-Lane, of the Delaware Maryland Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, said clergy will be asking families to volunteer to house additional children who may come to Maryland. An interfaith prayer vigil has been scheduled for Wednesday in Baltimore to call attention to the problem.
“The prayer vigil that’s coming up on Wednesday is designed to raise awareness and to let people know that we are looking for foster families that can take in kids,” Herz-Lane told reporters after the closed meeting with O’Malley. “I think we are calling in all the members in all of our churches, synagogues and mosques to help us spread that word and to make announcements there, so that families can step forward and do what needs to be done.”
Herz-Lane also said a link on a state government website will connect anyone interested in helping children with the proper state agencies.
Anne Sheridan, executive director of the Governor’s Office for Children, said the state also is seeking lawyers to work on a pro bono basis to help children who will need legal help.
“We know that families who have taken in kids will be in need of a number of supports in the future months, and we envision that legal representation will be among their needs and we will be seeking volunteer help,” Sheridan said.
Maryland already has about 2,205 of the unaccompanied children that have come across the border between Jan. 1 and July 7, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Herz-Lane said many of them are with family members or in foster care.
Ted Dallas, the secretary of the Maryland Department of Human Resources, said the state is working with local entities that have issued proposals to the federal government to house children. Dallas said the state is forwarding proposals to the federal government to meet an Aug. 5 deadline for grants.
More than 57,000 children and other migrants have crossed the border since October, mostly from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.
O’Malley, a Democrat who is considering running for president, ended up in a policy fight with President Barack Obama’s administration earlier this month after O’Malley criticized a White House proposal that could expedite the deportation of the children, saying it would “send them back to certain death.” Obama’s team leaked a phone call in which the governor asked the White House not to have children brought to a Maryland facility in Carroll County.
At a Nebraska Democratic dinner on Saturday night, O’Malley was unwavering, telling Democrats: “I believe in American generosity and the compassion of our people. We do not turn our back on innocent children who arrive at our doorstep fleeing death.”